Broken In Every Way | Teen Ink

Broken In Every Way

May 5, 2022
By Anonymous

I’ve been a gymnast since I was three, eleven years of my life dedicated to the sport. Although I’m not objectively great at gymnastics, it’s stayed a consistent part of my life. Gymnastics is like an obsessive parent, it watches over me and dictates the way I spend my time. Gymnastics cares too much, it forces me to sacrifice things vital to my health, mental and physical, just to advance. Loving the sport gets difficult quite often, feeling pressured to push myself and constantly improve isn’t always easy nor enjoyable.

The gym was scattered with deflated mats and worn equipment amidst focused gymnasts. The stretching classes indicated it was getting later and the dance rooms were as empty as a waterpark in the winter. Some athletes were goofing off, the length of the day hitting them in a wave of exhaustion, but others remained working hard despite the late hour. The smell of sweat, hairspray, and feet was pungent and overwhelmed my senses at all times. 

“I’ll do it if you do it!” Kate exclaimed, 

“Really? You know I hate pit tumbling.” I replied. Kate invariably challenged me, she always had a light-hearted way of competing and pushing herself to her limits. She was a funny individual, with auburn hair and a short, stumpy body. She frequently found a way to light up a room and draw all the attention to her. 

“You’ll be fine, worst-case scenario, you die.” Kate joked. Throwing myself backwards into a giant hole full of fuzzy blue foam blocks is scarier in practice than in theory.The skill I would be attempting is a full twist. This would have been an easy victory if I were on a trampoline or spring floor, but into the expanse of foam, everything seemed slightly more frightening. I planted my feet on the floor, comforted by the feeling of the soft carpet, and I took off. I recited the chant I thought of every time I did a round-off back handspring into a salto, Reach, reach, set! This mental mantra encouraged me to elongate my tumbling until the flip. First came the round-off, so far so good. Up next was the back handspring, this skill ended inadequately, with my feet half in the pit, half on the floor. My particular landing makes it difficult to properly set into a layout, so I failed to get a proper footing into the salto. Pushing off of the plush surface, I quickly became lost in my surroundings. I couldn’t differentiate up from down or left from right. My mind became flooded with too many questions and not enough answers. Mind whirling and fears brewing, I could only think of what would happen if I landed catastrophically and injured myself, not a single solution came to mind regarding how to avoid the physical trauma. In the midst of my panic, I went limp, resulting in my fall. At the time there was an eight-incher in the pit, a thick squishy mat that provides a flatter surface to land on. Descending through the air, I felt as if a wave hit my ears. The crack in my back, the gasps of my teammates, and the smack of my cheek on the wide blue mat inundated me completely. I had fallen flat on my face, with my legs overextended by my head. My eyes widened, and I felt immobile, almost as if I was paralyzed. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t move, only lie there. Once the initial shock wore off and I felt like I resembled a functioning human again, all I could pay attention to was the welling of tears in my eyes and the searing ache that pulsed through my lower back. I struggled to heave myself out of the pit, but once I finally escaped the sinkhole of foam I was saturated with questions about my condition. My coach, teammates, and other bystanders were curious about my situation, some even laughing. 

Rushing to help me sit down, my coach Teryn yelled, “Someone grab her ice!” 

She has always been a little strict, but when someone’s hurt she’s as serious as a surgeon performing a life-threatening heart surgery. At that moment I was solely focused on holding myself together, although my pain level was probably clear based on my slouched posture, scrunched nose, and furrowed eyebrows. I refused to show pain around my peers, especially if they were laughing. I was successful in my effort to avoid crying. For the remainder of practice, I sat on the sidelines, watching my friends fly and twist through the air.  

This idea of holding myself together quite possibly led to the hardest ten months of my life. I missed out on a week of practice because my back hurt, that week turned into two, and I feared falling behind. This distress led me to keep working, and for a while, my heating pad and I were inseparable. The pain was a constant variable in my everyday activities. I dealt with frequent aching because I waited four months to receive medical attention. I pushed through and worsened my condition, but at the time all that mattered was my advancement in the sport. Part of my tenacity to keep training relied on the comparison of myself to others and underlying insecurities. Later, I concluded that I had an avulsion fracture and Fassett joint damage, which might relapse and cause problems for the remainder of my growth and liveliness. I constantly think back and wonder if I would’ve prevailed if I had taken the injury seriously, even though I still did physical therapy and injections later in the game. Above all, I’ve discovered that propelling through isn’t the best option, even with a domineering parent watching my every move and pushing me to continue. An overbearing parent is never satisfied, in a way similar to gymnastics, expecting continual improvement. The best thing an athlete can do is take care of themselves in every way they can.

The author's comments:

This memoir details my intense experience with gymnastics and the story of my injury. This is a vulnerable thing to share so I hope you enjoy it. 

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